Reigning Tour de France champion Egan Bernal pulls out of race ahead of 17th stage


Defending Tour de France champion Egan Bernal has withdrawn from the race just hours before a mammoth stage in the Alps.

Bernal had been struggling since Sunday’s stage in the Jura mountains, where he dropped more than seven minutes on the main contenders and slipped out of contention.

After Monday’s rest day, Bernal suffered again on Tuesday’s 16th stage to Villard-de-Lans.

Hampered by back pain and subsequently knee concerns, the 23-year-old indicated afterwards he hoped to continue out of respect for the race.

But on the morning of Wednesday’s queen stage to the Col de la Loze above Meribel, his team Ineos Grenadiers announced the Colombian was withdrawing from the race, although it did not specify the reason for the decision.

“This is obviously not how I wanted my Tour de France to end, but I agree that it is the right decision for me in the circumstances,” Bernal said.

Bernal was in 16th place overall, 19 minutes and four seconds behind race leader Primoz Roglic.

The decision comes five days short of the race’s concluding stage in Paris.

“We have taken this decision with Egan’s best interests at heart,” Ineos Grenadiers team principal Dave Brailsford said.

“Egan is a true champion who loves to race, but he is also a young rider, with many Tours ahead of him and at this point, on balance, we feel it is wiser for him to stop racing.”

Bernal had pulled out of the Criterium du Dauphine with back pains last month.

Bernal, at 22, was the youngest Tour de France winner since 1909 last year.(AP: Christophe Ena)

In 2019 he became the youngest rider to win the Tour de France in 110 years.

Stage 17, arguably the toughest of the race, features the Col de la Madeleine and the Col de la Loze, the Tour’s highest point this year at 2,304 metres.

The traffic-free pass between the ski resorts of Meribel and Courchevel was opened to cyclists this year after a forest track was paved by local authorities.

The last six kilometres of the climb are particularly difficult, with very steep sections and sharp turns.

AP



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Egan Bernal’s bad day sets up Slovenian battle in Tour de France


The Tour de France boiled down to a battle between its two star Slovenian riders on Sunday as last year’s winner Egan Bernal dropped out of realistic contention.

Tadej Pogacar beat yellow jersey-holder Primoz Roglic in a dramatic mountaintop finish to Stage 15, though Roglic retains a 40-second advantage in the yellow jersey and formidable support from teammates who shepherded him up the Grand Colombier climb.

Bernal plummeted down the standings, all but ensuring the end of a five-year streak of Tour victories by his Ineos Grenadiers team, formerly known as Team Sky.

“At the moment, Roglic seems unstoppable,” Pogacar said.

“But today Bernal cracked and maybe one day myself or Primoz will crack too.

Pogacar stayed with Roglic on the long and brutal Grand Colombier climb despite Roglic having backing from four teammates on his ascent.

They drew on their last reserves to sprint for the summit finish, Pogacar taking his second stage win by a bike-length.

Pogacar and Roglic were given the same time.

As the stage winner, Pogacar was awarded 10 bonus seconds in the general classification against Roglic’s six for second place.

Roglic leads Pogacar by 40 seconds overall.

“I was a bit too short at the end. I didn’t make any gift to Tadej,” Roglic said, adding the Tour is “far from over”.

“We are good friends but we both want to win. He was just stronger and I was a bit disappointed to lose the stage.”

Pogacar, wearing the best young rider’s white jersey, crosses the finish line ahead of Roglic.(By Christophe Petit-Tesson/Pool via AP)

Monday is a rest day before five competitive stages including an individual time trial on Saturday, then the traditional procession into Paris on September 20.

Colombian riders started on Sunday ranked third to sixth overall behind the Slovenian duo, but all of them lost time on the 175km stage into the Jura mountains, and for two the challenge seemed over.

Bernal dropped off the lead group on the Grand Colombier climb and appeared to lose any chance of retaining the title as he dropped to 13th overall, eight minutes and 25 seconds off the yellow jersey.

Fellow Colombian Nairo Quintana started the day fifth but also dropped back on Grand Colombier and is ninth, five minutes, eight seconds off the lead.

Two more Colombian riders, Rigoberto Uran and Miguel Angel Lopez, managed to stay with the lead group and sit third and fourth in the overall standings.

Two cyclists, one in a white jersey ahead of one in yellow, straining as they ride.
There are five competitive stages left on the Tour.

Bernal said he had been feeling the effects of the first of the day’s three climbs, which had a gradient reaching 22 per cent in places.

“I was not going well from the first climb, to be honest, I was almost dropped there, I was suffering from the first climb,” he said in a statement from Ineos Grenadiers.

“It’s difficult to say how I felt, the feeling was that I was empty — I had no power. When the other riders did a big acceleration, I couldn’t go too hard to follow, but then I recovered really quickly, but my body couldn’t react as normal.”

As the long climb from the Rhone Valley to the finish began, Roglic’s Jumbo-Visma team had five riders including the Slovenian in the peloton.

They worked well together on the climb to protect Roglic and force a pace that put pressure on his rivals.

Restrictions introduced because of the coronavirus pandemic were supposed to ensure fans were restricted to the flatter sections and foothills and weren’t allowed to throng the narrow approaches to the summit finish.

However, there were still some cheering and waving flags near the top.

AP



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